The Baptism of the Lord: A Call to Change the
This is the last Sunday of the Christmas Season and the First Sunday of Ordinary time. The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord concludes Christmas and begins the meditation on the ministry of Jesus. There are four aspects of this feast: 1) the Lord humbles himself before John the Baptist, 2)the Lord is empowered by the Spirit to begin the mission of the Father, 3) the Lord accepts the mission to suffer and die for us and 4) the Lord expresses his solidarity with those looking to change the world.
The first aspect, the Lord humbling himself before John the Baptist is the traditional emphasis of the feast uniting the feast to Christmas. The Son of God humbled Himself to such a degree that He was born in a manger. He humbled Himself accepting the baptism of John even though He was sinless. Christ refused to consider Himself better than anyone.
The second aspect, the Lord is empowered by the Spirit to begin the mission of the Father, is the aspect of the baptism that is emphasized by the Eastern Church, Catholic and Orthodox. At His baptism, the Spirit comes upon the Lord to such an extent that He is empowered to begin the mission of the Father.
The third aspect, the Lord accepts the mission to suffer and die for us, flows from the first reading which is one of the Songs of the Suffering Servant in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah prophesied a Messiah who would not be a military commander but one who would suffer and die for the people.
Today, though, I want to focus on the fourth aspect of the feast, the Lord expresses His solidarity with those looking to change the world. One of the terrible realities of our world is the fact that wars continue to be fought. A war says that whoever spills the most blood of the enemy is right. A war says might makes right. This was nonsensical when we were 10 years old in the school playground fighting about whether a ball was fair or foul. It is far worse on the international level.
I want this world view to be changed. You want this to be changed. This also is not new. We are no different than the people of Jesus' time. Those who stood before John the Baptist were sick of a world full of cruelty, persecution, and war. They wanted a change and they wanted to do something about this immediately. And do you know what they did? They repented their own sins. They recognized that the world is not going to change unless they change. Jesus saw this and joined them. The Man of Peace accepted the baptism of John because He also wanted the world changed. Then Jesus began His public life saying that the Kingdom of God, the New Order, is upon us.
For the New Order to take place we have to conquer our enemies with love. We had to stop striking back. The law of talons, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" can not exist in the New Order. "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." "If someone wants to take your cloak, let him have it." It takes two for hatred to grow.
How can we be shocked at the presence of war when we all have refused to accept the dictates of the Sermon on the Mount? There are people who continually attack me and who continually attack you. How do I respond? How do you respond? Do we say a few choice words back to the person? Do we tell someone else what a terrible person her or she is? Do we do something to hurt the other person? If that is our normal mode of operation, then we know why the world is always ready for war.
Jesus stood before John the Baptist seeking a change in the world. He saw those who had been baptized before Him as people realizing that the change had to begin with themselves. He joined them. He was baptized.
We can all be outraged by wars or other moral evils. But we must also recognize with an intense guilt that we participate in evil every time we answer hatred with hatred instead of with love. We who call ourselves Christians must be Christians. Jesus accepted John’s baptism to begin the work of the Kingdom. Today we ask for the strength to join Him in seeking a new way, a new mode of action, one that promotes love, even when under attack. We ask for the courage to join Him in the Jordan River, before John the Baptist, and seek the way that promotes love, the way that furthers the Kingdom of God.